Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has declared a natural disaster in Baker County due to drought.

Baker County is one of eight Oregon counties designated as primary natural disaster areas. Ten other counties that border one of the eight primary counties, including Union and Wallowa, are also included in the designation.

The designation makes farmers and ranchers in both primary and bordering counties eligible for federal aid, including emergency loans through the Farm Service Agency.

No measurable rain has fallen at the Baker City Airport since June 20, a span of 43 days, and the National Weather Service is not predicting any rain through at least Aug. 9.

Rainfall for 2018 at the airport totals 4.77 inches, which is 25 percent below the average for the period Jan. 1 through July 31.

For the water year, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 31, rainfall at the airport is 31 percent below average.

This was just the fifth July since 1943 in which no rain fell at the airport.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Baker County is in the “abnormally dry” category.

A section in the county’s southwest corner is in a “moderate” drought, and the extreme southwest corner is in “severe” drought. The scale also includes two even worse levels of drought — “extreme” and “exceptional.”

No part of Oregon is in either of those categories.

Perdue’s announcement follows two earlier drought declarations.

In June 6 the Baker County Board of Commissioners asked Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to declare a drought emergency for the county following a winter with a below-average snowpack and a relatively dry spring — normally the wettest period in the county.

Brown declared a drought emergency in Baker County on June 18.

According to a letter Perdue sent to Brown this week, “farmers in eligible counties have 8 months from the date of a Secretarial disaster declaration to apply for emergency loans. FSA considers each emergency loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of production losses on the farm and the security and repayment ability of the operator.”

The federal disaster declaration makes Baker County ranchers eligible to apply for the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, said Trent Luschen, executive director for the Farm Service Agency in Baker County.

That program pays ranchers who lost forage on private land for their livestock due to the drought.

For beef cattle the base payment is $28.07 per bull or cow, and $21.05 for calves weighing 500 pounds or more.

More information about federal assistance is available at the FSA office at 3990 Midway Drive, or by calling 541-523-7121.

The eight primary counties in the federal drought designation are: Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Lake, Malheur and Wheeler.

The 10 contiguous counties in Oregon are: Gilliam, Jefferson, Klamath, Lane, Linn, Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Wasco.

The disaster declaration also includes several counties in adjacent states that border on one of the affected counties in Oregon — Modoc County in California; Adams, Canyon, Owyhee, Payette and Washington counties in Idaho; and Humboldt and Washoe counties in Nevada.